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For-profit or not, aren't fundraising and sales the same thing?
Written by Craig Morris
Since the dawn of the 501(c)(3) has also been the argument of whether or not fundraising is sales. 
“They are the same thing,” says my banker board member, “Nonprofits have a lot to learn from business!”
“They absolutely are not!” shouts my executive director. “We are in the business of changing lives, NOT making money!”
Technically, my E.D. is right; they are two distinct professions in two disparate sectors and, therefore, not the same.
However, there is a subtext under that question "Aren't they the same thing?"
Drill down into that question and the subject of WHY we are fundraisers vs. salespeople surfaces...every time. And every time it comes down to an argument that involves some form of perceived self-righteousness. Fundraisers abhor the comparison because, as they say, are not "in it for the money." You've heard the talking points: fundraisers are helping people; it's about the relationships; donors aren't getting anything tangible in return. So, how dare you compare fundraising to sales!
Now let's argue the converse. Salespeople are meeting a need, too. A customer will work a budget and stretch their dollar to get whatever it is they need or want, and salespeople are there to help make that happen. You could argue people hate being asked to give money to charity and often feel pressured to do so, and they're often guilt-tripped until they do. Then once you do give, they treat you like an ATM; you won't hear from them until they need something from you.
I believe the answer to the real question being asked here is there are good eggs and there are bad eggs in both professions. The good eggs are ethical, cultivate relationships, and get a positive response indicated by a cash transaction when their appeal is authentic and the offer is more valuable than the dollar amount. Further, if you continue to treat your new friend well, you'll likely enjoy another transaction in the future.
You see, I’ve had this discussion a thousand times. One common behavior I observe in the good eggs is this: they don’t brag about the money they bring in. Rather, at the end of the day when they go home to their family or friends, they share stories about the people they worked with that day and the joy a win-win relationship brings them.
Selling or fundraising, customer or donor, people cite the authenticity of the relationship as the thing that led them to make that gift, purchase, donation, grant, investment, or transaction.
Personally, whether I make a donation or buy a cup of coffee, I am left more fulfilled when I receive a friendly engagement followed by a genuine "Thank you, please come again!"
What say you? I say, be a good egg!
March 23, 2019 | Updated October 2020

Craig Curtis Morris

Cognitive-behavioral therapist, social scientist, and international fundraising consultant rendering the nonprofit sector powerful through training and coaching at
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